A fall movie season unlike any other continues this month, one absent of now-delayed blockbusters but still chock full of some of the year’s best films. With a mix of VOD, virtual cinemas, the Amazon Prime and Netflixes of the world, and limited theatrical runs, there’s a variety of how one can experience our top recommendations of the month––but rest assured, you should seek them out anyway you can.
13. Scare Me (Josh Ruben; Oct. 1)
It’s only fitting we kick off the list with a horror selection. A favorite upon its premiere at Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, Dan Mecca said in our review, “There’s an obvious love for chamber mysteries past, Ruben making a specific homage to the great Sidney Lumet thriller Deathtrap at one point. Where Scare Me distinguishes itself from standard fare is in its rendering of fear. Specifically, the fear of irrelevance that Fred cannot shake. In this character we find a thirty-something white male acutely aware of his vicious limitations. When confronted–in a contained space–with a female who is smarter and tougher than he is, his worst impulses blossom.”
Where to Watch: Shudder
12. Eternal Beauty (Craig Roberts; Oct. 2)
You may recognize the name Craig Roberts from his acting breakout in Submarine an entire decade (!) ago, but he’s also a formidable director in his own right. He’s now back with Eternal Beauty starring Sally Hawkins and David Thewlis. Jared Mobarak said in our review, “While Eternal Beauty is oftentimes funny, it’s almost always dramatically profound and emotionally complex. Roberts centering his script upon the truth that “normal” doesn’t exist is why it can become all those things at once. Rather than relegate Jane as “outcast,” she’s here to show the others that they too can wear their pain and depression on their sleeves instead of burying it deep within to retain society’s idea of sanity. “
Where to Watch: VOD
11. American Utopia (Spike Lee; Oct. 17)
One of the last experiences venturing out into the world before the pandemic hit was experiencing David Byrne’s American Utopia. A rollicking, lively greatest hits from the Talking Heads frontman, melded with urgent messages about the state of the nation, I was delighted to hear Spike Lee would be collaborating on a filmed version. While our review indicates the director and crew don’t quite capture the energy of the show, I’m still looking forward to seeing precisely how this version––which will certainly be its most-watched iteration––comes together.
Where to Watch: HBO
10. The Forty-Year-Old Version (Radha Blank; Oct. 2)
After picking up the U.S. Dramatic Competition Directing Award for The 40-Year-Old Version at Sundance this year, Radha Blank’s debut is now arriving on Netflix. John Fink said in our review, “Playwright Radha Blank’s spirited directorial debut The 40-Year-Old Version in an often hilarious and heartfelt autobiographical tale of reinvention. Surrounded in a shoebox apartment of memories of her past including 30 Under 30 Awards, Blank plays herself, a playwright who is faced with two options for her new play Harlem Ave: a local family theater or a flashier off-Broadway venue with a hole in their schedule. Best friend Archie (Peter Y. Kim) convinces her to get dressed up and court Josh Whitman (a scene-stealing Reed Birney) who has just come away from producing a bi-racial reboot of Austin Wilson’s Fences. Whitman is known for producing “safe, white-friendly” black stories and after getting physically choked by Blank, he relents and agrees to put on a production of Harlem Ave.”
Where to Watch: Theaters (Oct. 2) and Netflix (Oct. 9)
9. Possessor (Brandon Cronenberg; Oct. 2)
Following Antiviral, Brandon Cronenberg is back with a new horror feature to haunt your nightmares. Starring Christopher Abbott, Andrea Riseborough, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tuppence Middleton, and Sean Bean, Possessor follows a company who uses brain-implant technology to inhabit other people’s bodies, and have them carry out assassinations. With a moniker of “Uncut” to drum up buzz for the theatrical release, despite no cut version actually ever being screened, we’re still excited for all the frightful scares Cronenberg will be throwing our way this Halloween season.
Where to Watch: Theaters
8. The Projectionist (Abel Ferrara; Oct. 2)
Even before the pandemic, the art of film projection and exhibition has been a rarified breed in the era of digital presentations and the conglomeration of movie theater chains. In one of the prolific Abel Ferrara’s recent projects, he set his sights on Nicolas Nicolaou, who owns and operates Manhattan’s Cinema Village, Bay Ridge’s Alpine Cinemas & Forest Hills’ Cinemart. Once set for a release earlier this summer, Kino Lorber is now offering The Projectionist to cinemas as they reopen safely with 100% of sales going to the theaters. John Fink said in our review, “The joy of Ferrara’s The Projectionist is simply in getting to know its subject. Fredrick Wiseman famously states he can find interesting characters at work in any situation and here Ferrara invites us into the living room of a man who shaped cinematic exhibition in New York City in both the pre- and post-9/11 era. Nicolaou is the kind of guy you meet to do business with and end up staying longer than planned just to hear him talk about the old days.”
Where to Watch: Theaters
7. On the Rocks (Sofia Coppola; Oct. 2)
Part father-daughter movie, part detective story, part marriage drama, on paper, it looks like Sofia Coppola is balancing quite a bit with On the Rocks. However, with a light touch that still contains an undercurrent of complexity, her latest film is a rather jovial adventure throughout New York City and beyond, giving Bill Murray a delightful role he admittedly may not have had to do a great deal of research for. As a cherry on top, we also get to see what a Coppola-directed car chase looks like.
Where to Watch: Theaters (Oct. 2) and Apple TV+ (Oct. 23)
6. Fire Will Come (Oliver Laxe; Oct. 30)
In his follow-up to the striking Mimosas, Oliver Laxe has directed Fire Will Come, a hypnotic, slow-burn drama about life in a rural village threatened with extinction in the ruggedly beautiful Galician mountains. A jury prize winner at Cannes last year, Ed Frankl said in our review from the festival, “Laxe knows how to create a grounded, taut drama with a real sense of time and place. His opening sequence, a foggy, ethereal nighttime scene where diggers bulldoze giant Eucalyptus trees is infused with foreboding in a tangible natural terrain that towers over human activity. This is a region exposed to the elements, where people submit to nature as if it’s a greater power. Fire Will Come is, it should be no surprise, a prophetic title, and that’s part of the tension that Laxe carefully ratchets up.”
Where to Watch: Virtual Cinemas
5. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (Jason Woliner; Oct. 23)
One has to give to it to Amazon for attempting to keep a lid on Sacha Baron Cohen’s secretly-shot Borat sequel. However, with some test screenings giving a fair amount of early details away––including the mere existence of the film in the first place––we’ve only recently learned it will be arriving on Amazon Prime right before Election Day. With a story involving Trump and Epstein’s relationship, as well as the coronavirus, as well as cameos from Mike Pence, Rudy Giuliani, and more best left unspoiled, it’s shaping up to the be the comedy we desperately amidst our current political nightmare. How much it actually moves the needle in the intended direction remains up for debate, but we imagine, at the very least, it’ll be a great (comedic) success.
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime
4. City Hall (Frederick Wiseman; Oct. 28)
Even if there was the standard set of blockbusters arriving this fall, the most epic film of the season would still be Frederick Wiseman’s City Hall. The sprawling 4.5-hour odyssey set in the political heart of Boston is another masterstroke from the documentarian as we see the inner workings of how a city runs, from the mayor himself to the daily garbage routine. Rory O’Connor said in his review, “His ability to ennoble even the dreariest of bureaucratic entities never ceases to amaze. City Hall comprises his signature hypnotic array of high and low duties and practices. (And meetings. All the meetings.)”
Where to Watch: Virtual Cinemas
3. Dick Johnson Is Dead (Kristen Johnson; Oct. 2)
After her acclaimed directorial debut Cameraperson, Kirsten Johnson turned to her family once again for her follow-up. Dick Johnson Is Dead follows the director’s relationship with her father and takes a humorous, touching look at life and death in surprising ways. Winning the Special Jury Award for Innovation in Non-fiction Storytelling at Sundance, I said in my review, “There’s only one universal truth shared amongst all humans: one day, we will die. For some, this cold, uncomforting reality can lead to paralyzing anxiety as we think of who and what we’ll leave behind. For others, it’s a call to action to live every day with receptive empathy towards others and a curiosity to explore what the world has to offer. As already proven in her masterful directorial debut Cameraperson, Kirsten Johnson clearly falls into the latter category. With her brilliant follow-up Dick Johnson Is Dead, leave it to the director to create an exploration of death that is fun, bittersweet, and bursting with colorful imagination. In her portrait of her (spoiler warning!) still-alive father, she carries the same self-reflexive wit and vision as her prior film but takes it in a whole other direction.”
Where to Watch: Netflix
2. Martin Eden (Pietro Marcello; Oct. 16)
An official selection at the Venice, TIFF (where it won the top Platform prize), and the New York Film Festival last year, Pietro Marcello’s stunning adaptation of Jack London’s Martin Eden will now finally arrive this month after a few pandemic-related delays. Kyle Pletcher said in our review, “American novelist Jack London was an active proponent of socialism, his writing offering self-reflexive deconstructions of their values within distinct, incongruous, futuristic worlds, temporally far-flung but with technology and attitudes contemporaneous to the turn of the century. These qualities are prevalent throughout Martin Eden, Pietro Marcello’s fantastic second fiction feature that stands as a spellbinding synthesis of both London’s speculative ideas and Marcello’s documentarian instincts, capturing the clairvoyance and spirit of London’s writing via Marcello’s sensibilities as a predominantly non-fiction filmmaker.
Where to Watch: Theaters and Virtual Cinemas
1. Time (Garrett Bradley; Oct. 9)
The most essential film of the year is Garrett Bradley’s poetic masterpiece Time. The Best Director documentary winner at Sundance follows Fox Rich, who has been capturing footage of her family after her husband was given a 60-year prison sentence, with this archival material woven into beautifully-shot new footage from Bradley as she depicts the family’s struggle to battle the prison-industrial complex. I said in my review, “The last two decades of a family ripped apart sets the stage for Garrett Bradley’s Time, a formally stunning masterwork of empathy, exhaustion, love, and rage. The title of Time isn’t just a reference to the sentence Rob was given. It’s every moment he’s deprived of as the world continues outside his cell. It’s what Fox and their family sacrifice in their daily struggle to get him out. It’s every instant that the system in power uses to make them wait for an answer. It’s a piece of something that they may be able to win back if Rob was to be released. And it’s a sense of timelessness in which the director captures it all with her black-and-white, symphonic approach, which melds the political and personal in overwhelmingly heartbreaking ways.”
Where to Watch: Theaters (Oct. 9) and Amazon Prime (Oct. 23)